The internet enables people to connect without the need for face-to-face interaction, which isn't always a good thing. The new features Sony has touted for the PS4 further removes that personal connection you have with your friends. Instead of calling your friend up to come over and help you out with a particular tough spot, you can have your friend get you through a mission online. Because of this, your couch might get a bit more lonely with the absence of your buddy.
Sony isn’t the only one to blame for the death of the split screen co-op genre. Nintendo and the Wii U can share in this debacle. Any big title that makes extensive use of the Wii U's gamepad is going to require online play, since right now each console only accepts one tablet and it is impossible to buy a second tablet. Sure, you might be able to create simple LAN parties, but the brunt of gaming is done online, and two systems and two copies of the same game are going to have to be purchased if you want to play couch co-op.
Let’s get back to Sony. During their PS4 announcement, I worried about the direction Sony was going. Even if the online options are completely optional, I worry about how it will affect developers, who will be shoehorning social options into games much like the waggle was shoehorned into games on the Wii. The ability to share just about everything in-game instead of sharing in-room, even to the point of handing your controller over to someone across the country to help you through a rough spot, will push developers further away from creating couch co-op games. And that saddens me.
The big question now is how will Microsoft respond to all this online social gaming that Sony is pushing? There are those who allege that Microsoft is going to lock out used games, or they will tie specific game discs to specific consoles, on their next-gen console. If that happens, you will not be taking your favorite games to your friend's house for an all-night co-op party. Unless, of course, you want to haul your console and game over to your bud’s place.
With all that said, there is some good in this new technology. Earlier, I mentioned the Wii U’s gamepad and how it limits couch co-op. However, I have seen the Wii U’s gamepad succeed in bringing people together due to the varied gameplay the controller enables. Nintendo Land is an excellent example in the way it allows one player to interact with the other four players in new and creative ways, much as a Dungeon Master in Dungeons and Dragons controls the party of his friends (hmm...I wonder if someone would jump on making a DM game for the Wii U...). New Super Mario Bros. U and Rayman Legends each have great platforming levels made even more intricate by the use of a touchscreen gamepad. These games are really only possible in one room, allowing each person to yell above the din to work together toward their goal.
So, where will the next generation lead us? Some are fearing that we're headed for online social playing only. But I am personally praying for a resurgence of split screen co-op gaming. There's nothing like sitting on a couch and trash talking with your friends, and that has been lost with the advancement of the Internet Age, it’s just not the same doing it through a microphone. After all, you can’t high five each other through the internet.